By Alison Stateman
To celebrate today’s publication of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Chalice of the Gods, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club sat down with New York Times bestselling author Rick Riordan to discuss his new novel, which features the long-awaited reunion of Percy and his two besties Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, and Grover, a satyr. The trio first joined forces in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief—the novel that launched the beloved Percy Jackson book series in 2005. Riordan also filled us in on the making of the Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, based on his bestselling books. Debuting on the streamer on December 20, the series stars Walker Scobell in the title role, with Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth, and Aryan Simhadri as Grover.
D23: What was it like writing in the voice of Percy Jackson again?
Rick Riordan (RR): It’s been a while, 14 years since the last novel narrated by Percy. I was a little nervous about it. I didn’t know what that would be like, stepping back into that point of view. But I found it to be very easy. I think Percy is just so close to my own voice, [and is] so much a part of my life and my family’s life that he really does feel like a member of the family. So while no book is ever easy to write, this one felt like a reunion with a good friend.
D23: What was the biggest challenge you faced writing the new novel?
RR: I think just trying to figure out how to recapture that energy that this trio, Annabeth, Grover, and Percy had in the very first book in the series, The Lightning Thief. That really is the last time we saw just the three of them as a trio. So, getting back into their friendship, and the roots of the Percy Jackson world was a challenge, but it was also a whole lot of fun to do.
D23: There are Percy Jackson fans who have been eagerly awaiting this book, but also new readers to the Percy Jackson universe. What do you hope they each take away from Chalice of the Gods?
RR: The goal with all of my books is to provide a reading experience that’s fun and enjoyable and also kind of a stealth education in mythology. I always want kids to have fun and, maybe, not even realize how much they’re learning until afterwards. If I can provide kids with a good experience of reading a book for fun rather than because it’s been assigned to them and, learning, “Hey this reading stuff is pretty cool,”—if I can do that, I think I’ve done my job.
…I hope that readers who know the series will pick up Chalice of the Gods and say, “Oh, yeah, this reads exactly like I remember.” And I hope new readers will be able to pick it up and enjoy it for what it is—just a fun adventure with three young people trying to figure out life.
D23: What do you think fans of the Percy Jackson book series will enjoy most about the new novel?
RR: It is like going to a high school reunion, in a good way—catching up with the people you really cared about and seeing them again. If you’ve known the characters for a long time, it will be a treat to see them again in action. I hope it’ll feel like coming home. Even though the characters are older now—they’re seniors in high school—they’re still dealing with life issues and things that most kids can relate to, like getting ready for college and trying to graduate, all the while going on this dangerous quest and meeting gods and monsters who aren’t the friendliest. It’ll hopefully be a good ride.
D23: Because they are older, how has each grown in terms of their relationships—or understanding about navigating everyday life and these quests?
RR: I think to no one’s surprise, Annabeth is the one with the plan. She has it all figured out and she knows what she wants. She wants to study and become an architect and design buildings that will last forever. Her struggle is to get Percy to take all this seriously, to pass his courses so that he can go to college with her. Percy is like a lot of seniors in high school; he’s kind of done with the whole school thing and not feeling very motivated, especially when he gets distracted with all these quests he’s got to do. Grover is the most interesting. He is looking ahead to a time when his two best friends are going to be leaving for college and he’s going to be staying behind. He’s a satyr; he ages differently. That’s a real bittersweet moment for him, wondering how that’s going to change their friendship.
D23: In addition to your new novel, you have adapted Percy Jackson and the Olympians into a series for Disney+. [Two films, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief from 2010 and 2013’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters—both of which Riordan wasn’t directly involved in—are currently available to view on Disney+.] What inspired you to take on this new series?
RR: I wanted to see if there was an opportunity to make an adaptation that was more closely aligned with the source material. Fans of the books have wanted that for years. The acquisition of Fox by Disney presented an opportunity to look at that again. I made the choice with my wife Becky to go out to Hollywood again and give it one more shot. It became a full-time job. It was, to use Greek mythology, a Herculean effort to get it off the ground—but we did it. It was three solid years of work and I’m really pleased that we finally have the series coming out.
D23: What was the production process like?
RR: There was COVID and all the other many challenges of putting together any TV show. It was a learning experience. I like to compare it to learning a new language, like immersion—just dropping myself into another country where I don’t know the language, I don’t know the culture, and trying to muddle my way through until I’m at least conversant.
D23: Translating your books into an entirely different format must have involved its own particular challenges…
RR: Absolutely. It was a great challenge and something that I don’t think I understood until I was on the other side trying to figure it out. Again, I like the challenge of learning other languages—and I have come to realize from doing that, that it’s very difficult, even from one language to another to translate something. If you just try and go word for word and recreate the sentence, it will be faithful but it won’t make any sense. It won’t make the same point. You have to make some changes in order to say the same thing. That’s the way it is with film too. You have to use a different toolbox to say roughly the same thing.
D23: Can you tell me about casting the three main roles? What were you looking for and around how many actors did you screen?
RR: Disney’s company policy, which I agree with, is open casting—we’re going to see everyone who wants to participate and we’re not going to put any guidelines on it other than actors being able to play the age of the character. We saw thousands and thousands of audition tapes and got it down to a smaller number and had to consider not only which actor or actress had the aura we were looking for to capture the character, but also had good chemistry with the other two main leads. It took months and months. I can safely say that the three actors that we got are unbelievable. They’re not only talented individually, but they are fantastic together. They bring the characters to life.
D23: Do you have a favorite episode?
RR: Oh, gosh. It’s hard to say without giving away too much. I will say there are several very important scenes that we adapted from the book that never made it into the movie versions. Those are probably my favorites in the show because it’s the first time fans will see those rendered for the screen—and I think they will be very pleased.
D23: How closely did you hew to the book?
RR: In terms of the plot, we stuck with it very closely. What I will say though, that I found really fascinating, is that we were able to look at the story, which I wrote back in 2005, and say, “What do I wish I had done at that time? What background can we give people that know the story backwards and forwards, but still have questions like, ‘How did Sally meet Poseidon?’ or ‘What were Percy’s experiences in school before we see him in the first chapter?’” We were able to dive into that and flesh out the history of these characters and the chemistry between them in ways that are completely faithful [to the book] but are also new.
D23: Are there any Easter eggs you can share from the Disney+ series that fans will especially appreciate?
RR: I have a cameo in the series. So, if you can find it, you may spot a Rick Riordan in the wild!